An operational remote sensing algorithm of land surface evaporation

Kenlo Nishida
Ramakrishna R. Nemani
Steven W. Running, University of Montana - Missoula
Joseph M. Glassy


Partitioning of solar energy at the Earth surface has significant implications in climate dynamics, hydrology, and ecology. Consequently, spatial mapping of energy partitioning from satellite remote sensing data has been an active research area for over two decades. We developed an algorithm for estimating evaporation fraction (EF), expressed as a ratio of actual evapotranspiration (ET) to the available energy (sum of ET and sensible heat flux), from satellite data. The algorithm is a simple two-source model of ET. We characterize a landscape as a mixture of bare soil and vegetation and thus we estimate EF as a mixture of EF of bare soil and EF of vegetation. In the estimation of EF of vegetation, we use the complementary relationship of the actual and the potential ET for the formulation of EF. In that, we use the canopy conductance model for describing vegetation physiology. On the other hand, we use “VI-Ts” (vegetation index-surface temperature) diagram for estimation of EF of bare soil. As operational production of EF globally is our goal, the algorithm is primarily driven by remote sensing data but flexible enough to ingest ancillary data when available. We validated EF from this prototype algorithm using NOAA/AVHRR data with actual observations of EF at AmeriFlux stations (standard error ≅ 0.17 and R2 ≅ 0.71). Global distribution of EF every 8 days will be operationally produced by this algorithm using the data of MODIS on EOS-PM (Aqua) satellite.